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Romney posts sizable lead over Santorum nationally

Mar 2, 2012 12:11 IST

#Mitt Romney   #NewsTracker   #Poll   #Rick Santorum  

Washington: A national poll shows Mitt Romney increasing his lead to 11 percentage points over top challenger Rick Santorum as the Republican presidential campaign intensified ahead of Tuesday's crucial primary and caucus votes.

The two men are in a bitter fight for the nomination to challenge President Barack Obama, who was in the small Northeastern state of New Hampshire on Thursday, calling for Congress to abolish tax breaks for oil companies.

The latest Gallup tracking poll showed Romney with 35 percent support nationally to 24 percent for Santorum. The Gallup survey represents a daily snapshot of a candidate's standing.

A national poll shows Mitt Romney increasing his lead to 11 percentage points over top challenger Rick Santorum. AP Photo

Polls show Santorum with a considerable advantage in Ohio, probably the most important state in next week's clump of primaries and caucuses known as Super Tuesday. The Tuesday vote will apportion a total of 419 delegates to the party national convention in August. The Republican nominee must accumulate at least 1,144 delegates to win the nomination at the Tampa, Florida, gathering of party notables in August.

In the overall race for delegates, Romney now leads with 168, followed by Santorum with 86. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich has 32 delegates and Rep. Ron Paul has 19.

Santorum went after Romney on Thursday, challenging his conservative credentials as he regroups from a painful loss to the front-runner Tuesday in Michigan.

Santorum said Romney's initial reaction to a question about a contraception measure in the US Senate shows he's not conservative "at the core."

At a campaign rally in Atlanta, Santorum said Romney's "gut reaction" should have been to support the bill by Sen. Roy Blunt, who is backing Romney. Critics said the measure would have limited insurance coverage of birth control. It was defeated Thursday in the Senate.

On Wednesday, Romney told one interviewer that he opposed the measure, then reversed himself hours later in a subsequent interview, saying he misunderstood the question.

Santorum said Romney only changed positions after speaking with his campaign consultants. Santorum also said voters deserve a Republican candidate like him, someone who "at the core" believes in conservative issues and won't put them on the back burner. Santorum was using Romney's gaffe to draw a contrast with his rival, who has had trouble winning conservative approval.

Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul challenged Santorum's claim of being a core conservative, pointing to a past instance where the former Pennsylvania senator voted contrary to his rhetoric.

Santorum's increasingly conservative campaign positions, which have focused heavily on social issues like abortion, contraception, women in the workplace and reform of health care, have forced Romney to shift his politics further to the right. He has a moderate record from his days as Massachusetts governor where he was chief executive when the state implemented a health care reform law that served as a template for the one that became law nationally in Obama's first year in office.

Republicans hate the measure, particularly a portion that requires all Americans to buy health insurance or face a federal penalty. Romney himself is even promising that he would repeal the reforms if elected.

Meanwhile, Republican Party officials in Michigan voted to change the way they awarded 30 delegates from Tuesday night's presidential primary, a day after the tally showed Romney and Santorum each getting 15 even though Romney won the popular vote. Under the new rules, Romney got 16 delegates, and Santorum won 14.

The Santorum campaign said it would appeal the ruling and, in an email, referred to the turn of events as an "election scandal."

AP